Cricketers prepare to raise their bats for annual fundraiser

Bury Times: WINTER WARMER The annual fixture has previously been played in the snow WINTER WARMER The annual fixture has previously been played in the snow

Cricketers at Tottington St Johns and Brooksbottom are preparing to raise their bats and do battle in the 51st annual Boxing Day match.

The traditional ‘friendly’ takes place this year at Brooksbottom’s Rowlands Road ground in Summerseat. The match, which began in 1963, sees the two sides come together to raise much needed funds for both clubs.

The first 43 occasions were played between Brooksbottom Cricket Club and Bolton Road Cricket Club – the last seven between Brooksbottom and Tottington St John’s.

Former Bolton Road player Alan Fletcher explains how the fundraising idea first came about. “November 1963 seems like yesterday when the late, much missed, Jack Whitmore (Brox) and your Bolton Road scribe put our secretarial heads together to devise a one-off, fundraising Boxing Day cricket match.

“The truth was both clubs were skint. Bats were a costly £3 (less discount), match balls ten bob (50p) and annual subscriptions were approaching an eye-watering £2, plus would you believe, Umpires were demanding bus fares on top of their over-generous 75p match fee.

“On that historic fogbound opening day, glowing blazers, surrounded by grateful spectators ringed the arena. The unprepared wicket was frozen, decapitation was a distinct possibility and an apprehensive Bolton Road batsman (me as it happens) nervously faced the first ball.

“In the end the happy Treasurers of both clubs shared a £36 life-saving profit with a vow to make the fixture an annual event.”

Fletcher bowled the first ball in last year’s 50th anniversary event to Les Deegan, who he also faced half a century ago.

Deegan said: “The first match required the fielding team to bowl 12 overs only, with no limit on how many overs each bowler could bowl. “Bolton Road batted first and at the completion of 12 overs had amassed a total of 62 runs. “Alan Fletcher, later to be a scourge of Brox batsmen, faced the first bowl and eventually topped scored with 12 runs. “Brox reached their target in the final over with a young Kevin Raynes top scoring with 20 runs.”

Tottington St John’s of the North Manchester Cricket League go into this year’s fixture 4-3 down in the series, and development and child welfare officer, Kieran Coe, is looking for revenge to level the scores.

“Brooksbottom, who play in the Ribblesdale league, are a a good couple of leagues above us, so the 4-3 is quite a good success rate for us really because they have professionals playing for them. “We’re involved with a team called Ramsbottom Traders. Ex-Coronation Street actor Graeme Hawley, aka John Stape, plays for them and he has been playing a few games for us as well.

“We’ve just got a new clubhouse here too, so you could say we are two of the upwardly mobile clubs in the area.”

The Twenty20 game, which is played in all weather conditions, saw more than 200 spectators attend last year.

“Everything happens whether it rains, snows, wind, hail, sun, absolutely anything really.

“We do a programme and advertising in that raises £2,000 for each club. “The game has grown into quite a thing. It even gets a mention on Test Match Special.

“The best days that we’ve had are when the ground is covered in snow and the sun’s come out. Everyone’s got eight sweaters on and we light fires around the ground. Although classed as a ‘friendly’, Cole said: “It’s a local derby so it’s not that friendly.

“Two years ago one of our batsmen ended up having six hours at A&E with five stitches in his forehead.

“It’s competitive and raises quite a lot of money for both clubs. It’s our biggest earner of the year.”

The Boxing Day game will include a full bar, seasonal refreshments, pie and peas and a raffle – via £1.50 purchase of programme.

The game starts at Summerseat at 11am and carols will be played by the Fusilier Band.

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